Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (Kitchen Door)


Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.

He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.

Left Unsated at the Kitchen Door

I think I ordered badly at Kitchen Door. A couple of things didn’t go right: the wine didn’t go well with the food I ordered, which made me like the dishes less. I tried to have a really good experience at Todd Humphries’ casual place, which is appended to the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, but I came away feeling disjointed.

I’ve enjoyed Humphries’ food forever, both at Campton Place in the city and at Martini House in St. Helena. Kitchen Door, his newest project, is more egalitarian. To do that, you try to be all things to all people, which rarely works. Kitchen Door is fun, and prices seem reasonable, although $50 is not the most sensible bill for a salad, a sandwich, and two tumblers of wine that tumbled out of a tap.

I started with a 2012 albariño ($8.50), a Spanish white grown in Edna Valley from a brand called Remix. I have no problem with whites served too cold, which they almost always are. By cupping the glass in both hands for a few minutes, it’s easy to bring a white to a temperature where one can actually taste it. My hands, however, were just this side of frostbitten because this wine, which came from a tap, took forever to warm up.

This American albariño was indeed bright and fresh, but it isn’t very varietal. Albariño from Rías Baixas, from where the best Iberian “Albars” come, are steely and minerally, even with some peat aromas. But most have become like most pinot grigios, nondescript and uninteresting. So what we had here was a Cali Albar, from the tap. So what did I expect?

The Remix has some redeeming qualities, such as the aforementioned brightness with some citrus flavor. But pairing it with a shaved celery salad, as I did, which was drowned in a creamy white balsamic and sweetened by dates, rendered the wine sour.

I next ordered an ‘11 Copain pinot from the Anderson Valley to pair with the banh mi sandwich ($13.75), which featured a choice of duck or chicken. Pinot noir and duck? They have good affinity for each other. But to add to my disjointedness, the pinot spigot, I was told by my attentive server, was busted. I opted for a red blend (“Lot #213”) consisting of petite sirah, grenache, and syrah from The Messenger ($8.50). From the tap, too, the menu listing was marked with the letters “MV,” which I took to be a typo for NV, or nonvintage. My thoughtful server didn’t know the abbreviation but another waiter unraveled the mystery: MV stands for “multivintage.”

The blend displayed some nice fruit aromas; it was round and tasty and also bright, even with some bridge-coating fine-grained tannins, which is a rare and good thing in such an inexpensive wine. With the banh mi? The hotness of the jalapeños made the alcohol seem searing (a common occurrence) and teased out the oak, which wasn’t apparent before and which, when commingled with the sweet pickled vegetables in the sandwich, made for a too sweet-hot mash-up.

Further exacerbating my verklempt state, when I attempted to swirl the glass, wine came tumbling out—both times. I was cautious too. I swirled the safe way—on the table—as opposed to picking the tumbler up. Though the small vessel was only half full, it still could not contain the vortex. So I leave you asking myself this: who the hell swirls wine from a tap in a tumbler, for God’s sake? I do.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: MV Lot #213 The Messenger, California ($8.50 glass/$19 carafe) From the tap, the multivintage (MV) red blend, comprised of petite sirah, grenache, and syrah, is closed at first but opens to reveal fresh, sweet fruit aromas, while in the mouth it’s round, tasty, bright and not too sweet (until you pair it with hot spices). There are some fine-grained tannins here at midpalate, not often seen in a wine at this price. Those tannins come from the skins. I don’t know what the alcohol percentage is, but before I had it with chiles, it seemed in check. When I was able to isolate the duck in a banh mi sandwich, the wine became a perfect foil for the fowl.

Please feel free to email Alan with your comments and your experiences with restaurant wine. He’d love to hear from you.